Paul Englishby at the piano, working with Hamlet company members. Photo by by Ellie Kurttz  © RSC

Extract from the Rehearsal Scrapbook in the 2008 production programme:

Composing the score

I normally begin to sketch out ideas after reading the script and an initial conversation with the director about the proposed style and feel of the production, e.g. will it be a period setting or contemporary, a very physical, fast-paced production or stark and minimal in design. The model showing is always inspiring and I often try to match the atmosphere of the set with the music.

Many of Shakespeare's plays have songs in them, and that can be a good place to start in finding a harmonic language for the piece. Any music which requires active participation on stage, i.e. songs, dances or onstage band music, needs to be written early in the process so that it can be rehearsed in the context of the scenes. In Hamlet I needed to get Ophelia's songs written early, in order that Ophelia and the rest of the cast had time to learn them.

At some point during rehearsals, we'll sit and go through the script and decide where we think music should go and what its function is. The score and underscore is written as the scenes take shape and it becomes clear what the music needs to do; for example, sometimes one wants to usher in the next scene with music or, alternatively, linger on a moment at the end of a scene. The music might try to mirror how a character is feeling, or indicate that an army or some other threat is approaching.

The score is still being worked on through the technical period, as practical matters often dictate the length of cues.

Written by Paul Englishby, Composer
Photograph by Ellie Kurttz shows Paul Englishby at the piano, working with Hamlet company members © RSC

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Teaching Shakespeare